Director: Jeremy Podeswa
Writer: Jeremy Podeswa, Anne Michaels (novel)
Producer: Robert Lantos
Starring: Stephen Dillane, Rade Sherbedgia, Rosamund Pike, Ayelet Zurer, Rachelle Lefevre, Robbie Kay
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 104 min
Canadian novelist Anne Michaels has always been a force in Canadian literary circles but it was her first novel, 1997’s “Fugitive Pieces” that brought her international acclaim winning her a number of large prizes including the prestigious Orange Prize. Michaels’ work is likely to get yet another boost this year as her story of a man’s struggle with his demons is now a gorgeous film from another Canadian talent, writer/director Jeremy Podeswa.
Fugitive Pieces stars Stephen Dillane as Jakob, a man struggling to get through the days because he is haunted by survivor’s guilt. Though he is in constant search for his sister, Jakob is the apparent sole survivor of his family, all of who were killed by Germans in WWII. A young Jakob made a narrow escape and was soon discovered by a Greek Anthropologist named Athos, portrayed by the mostly bit-player Rade Serbedzija, who smuggles him into Greece. When the war ends, Athos relocates to Canada, taking Jakob with him and raising him as his son.
The story is told, to great effect, in an intricate web of flashbacks and dream sequences. We see Jakob unhappily married and we quickly learn the story of his relationship which almost immediately fall apart as his wife, wonderfully played by the gorgeous Rosamund Pike, reads his diary and comes to know Jakob’s past and his true feelings towards her and their relationship. Pondeswa wastes no time setting up the grown up Jakob and as his adult life falls apart, we see the tragedy of his youth and the events that have shaped the man. Robbie Kay, a relative newcomer, steals the film as young Jakob – believably speaking three languages and capturing the pain, confusion and trauma of what he’s seen. The film works because we believe that what young Jakob has seen has somehow damaged his psyche and much of the film’s success is due to Kay’s fantastic performance.
At the hands of another director, Fugitive Pieces might be a mess of flashbacks and confusion of time lines but Pondeswa constructs and stays close to his carefully crafted script. Having never read the book, it’s difficult to say whether he captures all of the emotion of the novel but I’d venture to say that if he hasn’t succeeded, he’s come very close. The film is emotionally draining but Pondeswa peppers the overly heavy bits with fluffy, sometimes comedic, moments that prevent the audience from drowning in the despair. The film’s roots in the novel are also peppered throughout as voice overs that add some insight into Jakob’s character – all but the closing monolog which feels forced and unnecessary.
Fugitive Pieces is a beautiful film. The heartbreaking story is brought to life by a wonderful group of actors and captured by a talented director. Though the story is mostly of one man’s struggle with survivor guilt, it also captures the far-reaching effects of war on family and individuals, long after it has ended. Like The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, Fugitive Pieces focuses on telling a small, personal story within the larger construct of WWII and its effects on the Jewish community and as a result, it feels like a new, untold story.
Click “play” to see the trailer: